What the Europeans call America—that is, Canada and the United States—was fostered by what we usually refer to as Europe. If men and women had not left the Old World, there would not be any New World as we know it. Hence, any investigation into the relationship between Europe and America must begin with an investigation into the nature of Europe itself. Only then can we ponder the extent to which the child has been faithful—or unfaithful—to the mother or speculate about the countereffect of the creation on its creator.
I could argue that Europe is nothing but a word, an easy way to refer to a vague and rather fluctuant geographical area—the westernmost part of the Asian continent—in which, over the course of many centuries, the lives of a rather imposing number of men have been more closely intertwined than in other parts of the world, an area where the intensity of interactions has been particularly high, but an area which has never been able to achieve a real, lasting entity.
There is no material proof for the existence of an easily recognizable being called Europe: no definite borders, no common language, no structural body of similar political behavior, no economic unity, no uniform pecuniary or dietary habits, clothing, styles, manners, and so forth. From an empirical point of view, Europe must be recognized as something made up of such irreducibly diversified parts that there is no way to sum them up.
Nevertheless, Europe can be construed as an entity of its own, provided you look not at the different ways a principle may be applied but at the principle itself. You will never find Europe if you limit your observation to the manifestations, which are quite varied indeed, of the “spirit of Europe.” You will, however, find them very European, and what Europe is will appear very clearly indeed, if you start looking for a common inspiration, something beyond the empirical evidence, but without which there is really no evidence. Siblings are different individuals—very often extremely different—but it takes a very rare difference between them to obliterate their air de famille. If you look for a reality that you can call Europe, you should look for something that is a spiritual reality, for Europe is nothing but a spirit and was indeed born as a spiritual principle. Disregard the soul, and the body is but the sum of members that tend to be disjointed, having lost their common purpose. Europe is everything upon which a certain soul stamped its unique mark.
To look for the true soul of Europe, we must bypass modern times: Even though the numerous failures at making Europe a going concern may seem today on the verge of being overcome, we are not observing the birth of a living creature but the clumsy making of a mechanical puppet that is, to a true Europe, what the Terminator is to a warrior. The spirit of Europe is long gone, and we are left with a marionette controlled by more or less hidden puppeteers.
There was, however, and maybe still could be, though hidden within the deep recesses of the public mind, a spirit of Europe that resembles an invisible thread binding the actions of millions of men together over the centuries. It inspires them with a similar and common yearning for the same goals, respect for the same values, admiration for the same ideals that they may disregard because of their private vices but can never forfeit in their hearts, as though against their own will. By and by, from the time of Plato until the French Revolution, there were men living in roughly the same area of the planet for whom the same things were ugly or beautiful, true or false, natural or unnatural, even though it never prevented numbers of them from preferring the negative values to the positive ones, while the different peoples translated the good norms into their own language, adapting them to their own customs and traditions.
How was this spirit born? Where did it originate? The same question applies to any man, and the same answer obtains: A child has parents but is more than the sum of their characteristics. One minute, there are only his parents; the next, he is. He exists as an entirely new being. In a similar manner, the spirit of Europe, one day, was born.
Is it not outrageously ambitious to try to define such an extraordinary thing as this generating principle of Europe?
To answer, we must acknowledge what is blatantly evident. What is—what purports to be—philosophy, since the time of Socrates, if not indeed an inquiry into the nature of things in general and man in particular (Connais-toi toi-même)? And how can the philosophical system, all the ideas derived from this basic questioning, be anything but descriptive of a certain type of mind that happens to be Greek at its origin? How can it be anything but a summary of what the Greeks believed, felt, loved, hated, and, generally speaking, considered the true norms a man had to live up to? We can trace the influence of Greek thinking all the way to yesterday, relayed, of course, by the Romans and the Christians, which is to say by men deeply respectful of a culture that they considered not only as their ancestor but their mentor.
The spirit of Europe, then, is a religious and/or philosophical one (which may have occurred elsewhere), stemming from a set of principles which I dare think unique (and never born anywhere else). In a nutshell, that spirit was born when, seeking, as most men do, an explanation for the universe in general and mankind in particular, it laid as a foundation for that explanation these two closely related ideas: first, that the universe in its entirety existed not only (and, I daresay, primarily) because someone or something was the cause of it but because that someone or something either was reasonable or was reason itself (logos) and because it was impossible for the logos itself not to exist. From the outset, the world—and man—was not the product of some mysterious and therefore frightening force but was potentially if not actually intelligible by man. Hence the predominant role of religion and philosophy: What you believe in is something accessible to the human mind. Contrary to what moderns like to think, religion and philosophy were therefore not born out of fear but out of admiration, and here is the second governing principle of the European tradition: Man need not be subjected to blind fear, or stupid custom, or mindless instinct but to reason. Man was endowed with the ability to participate in the order of the universe; his reason was part of the Reason. Having this ability meant having to use it: Life had a purpose, and a natural one. The goal was both exterior to man, since he had to take part in something he did not create, and deeply interior, because, by complying with nature, he was to fulfil at the same time his own nature. What can be more natural, if something appears reasonable, than to yield to reason? What is more natural, if you deem something right, than to do what you think is right? If you are a cobbler and believe it was ordained that you should make shoes, what is more natural than to be a good cobbler? Hence the third basic principle of the classical European mind: Since everything has a reason for existence, everything should be perfect. Since this world obviously is not perfect, evil must originate not from within its fabric (as in Manichaeism) but from the only part of the world that seems to be endowed with some sort of ability to disturb its harmony: man himself. Thus, the spirit of classical Europe is infused with the urgency of inner spiritual reform.
The classical European soul is made up of faith, intelligence, and will: faith as confidence in things as they are, as knowledge that man’s life is neither meaningless nor arbitrary; intelligence as a means not to transform the world but to understand how to integrate it, how to differentiate between what is and what is not natural; and will as a requirement for bettering oneself, fighting what can be perceived as bad in oneself.
These ideal principles may have been, more often than not, betrayed. They are, nonetheless, the very root not only of the political and social but of the spiritual, moral, and cultural structure of classical societies. European history is but the struggle of its spirit to enthuse the often reluctant mentalities of the Europeans to be. Without the certitude that man has a calling to take part in an eternal and universal order to which he is no stranger, which welcomes him, there would not be any citizenship of the kind known in the Greek city, no friendship between citizens. Neither would there be any such institution as the corporation, transmitting workmanship and dispensing moral as well as technical education. Without the certitude that there is some kinship between man and the Eternal, there can be no Church—and that means no spiritual power and, therefore, no deeply legitimate temporal power, no real authority but mere brute force, no checks on power except those exercised by another one, but also no education, no benevolent medical care, nor registration of citizens. In a word, society might be some kind of machinery, a set of mechanisms, but not an organized, naturally coordinated, living being.
Those principles underlie some crucial traits of the European mind: perception of the divinity as a benevolent model; intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge; propensity for personal responsibility and self-reliance; acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, especially respect for women; hatred of tyranny and arbitrary power; and so forth. Without reference to those inner precepts, we cannot perceive the enthusiasm, the self-sacrifice, the loyalty, the decency, the courage, the thoughtfulness, the passion for the spiritual, the joy of living, the chivalry that have so strenuously been obscured by the savagery of passions, the roughness of habits, the disorders of private ambitions, the passivity in the face of natural disasters—all things that modern historians like so much to be the rules of the game before the Enlightenment came to free them from their duties and teach them their rights so that they would, at least, become more civilized, fraternal, nature-loving, and, most of all, peaceful (as history has proved they have become).
In any case, come 1793, the glory of Europe was extinguished forever.
This is not, of course, what people thought—neither at the time the earth started to shake nor by the time they were leveling the ground for the decisive upheaval: The Renaissance claimed to give an opportunity to Europe to be born again, which means to become entirely different and actually the opposite of what it was.
Oozing from the hidden depths of several centuries, gathering strength from the 13th to the 16th century, a tidal wave developed, swelling high enough to sweep over the entire European landscape. As it washed ashore, people reacted in two connected but radically opposite ways. Although both had the same genitor, they clashed and started to drift apart right from the start. Even though the original rift was clearly visible, it took time for the twin siblings to realize their difference. After all, they shared the same loathing for Old Europe. Neither wanted to hear any more about a natural order of things, about the very idea that there are things that are natural and other things that are not. And they loathed still more the claim that some men could be the heirs of the old European religion. To both of them, whether considered in Himself or in the shape He chose to appear to human eyes, or again as revealed by His authorized interpreters, God was no longer a day-to-day guide, endowed with the authority to proclaim and teach what is natural and what is not. Both twins were very much indeed opposed to Rome.
The same dogma, however, had two very different origins, logically related, but as the two sides of the same coin are related. A shared feeling is not enough to make identical twins: The New World is an ocean apart from the new Old World.
On one hand, there were people who applauded the death of God or, rather, the clearing away of what was to them a fog concealing nothing but a void. They conceived of religious or philosophical notions, like that of a natural order of things, as a prison contrived to force people into accepting their submission as tools of some masters, preventing them from putting their gifts to their own use. Actually, this well-known slogan was only the product of a much more momentous notion, born out of an understandable, if not excusable, more or less conscious reasoning, dating back almost to the birth of classical theology and/or philosophy. If, indeed, the universe was to be considered a perfection, nothing that is part of it (nothing created by God) can really be the cause of evil. (God is not responsible, Plato already used to say.) The good news had to be taken literally: Nothing can go wrong with what God does or ever did. Therefore, evil can only come from “outside,” which is an idea that obtains both for the universe in general and for man in particular. Hence the logical conclusion, and clearly a very tempting one as far as men are concerned: The only evil among men exists because some of them are evil; eradicate them, and mankind is safe and saved. It is one and the same thing to externalize sin—to exonerate oneself—and to need to discover the guilty ones.
In other words, Marxism is but a side effect of a theological misconception—unfortunately, a tempting and an absolutely devastating one. Sin lies not with any man as a free being but simply in the hearts of some on them. And, since sin is but a word, the idea no longer stands as a heresy but as a very obvious truth: I am no sinner; my nature is good; all I have to do is enjoy it. Hence the momentous conclusion: Since I can rest perfectly content with what I am, any complaint that I may have must be directed either to or against my environment, which is made of two things: nature and my fellow man.
Henceforth pragmatic science and politics will go hand in hand as the only tools I need to be able to enjoy myself, but with a special qualification regarding their use: Any activity directed to those two goals is essentially born out of a momentary necessity, the true goal being to enjoy myself without any constraint, which means without having to do anything. From now on, I will have rights but no duties.
Thus, some men will be in charge of taming Dame Nature and subjugating her so that everybody can enjoy continual leisure. As for the relationships that should exist between “les hommes de bonne volonté,” they should either be of pure enjoyment, in a hedonistic atmosphere of continual fiesta, or of sheer stern terror against the evil ones, who anyway hardly deserve to live at all and should probably be disposed of or, at the very least, put aside, to let true men have their way. Terrorism and hedonistic humanitarianism are two sides of the same coin.
This is obviously the path that, since the turn of the 18th century, the new Old Europe has chosen to follow. Socialist Europe is the heretical and perverted—but natural—heir of Christian Europe. The revolt against Christianity wills itself to be the true accomplishment of Christianity.
Modernity, however, has another face, a pessimistic one. The new understanding of the good news could induce some people, after the manner of Rabelais, to enjoy life without restraint and without worrying too much about God, because He had made everything so perfect that there was no longer a need for Him. It was therefore logical that some would deem it necessary to restore a sense of sin, to stress how sinful men were. In the end, however, this endeavor amounted to declaring men so sinful that there could be no communication with God: Man was left all by himself.
At that stage, the attitude of the faithful is open to two sharply contrasting interpretations. One can see it as a way of rejecting religion altogether. Since mankind is doomed to live in a godless world, what difference does it make to lead this life according to purely human standards? And then it would seem as if the difference was negligible between those men doomed by the consciousness of their sin to live as if there were no God and those men denying their sinfulness who embarked on a consciously godless way of life.
The apparent similarity, which is striking, is nevertheless misleading. This is no moot point, because it is precisely the one at which the New World and the new Old World start to drift apart.
Even though, in both cases, men no longer seem concerned with their temporal lives, it obviously makes a great deal of difference whether they act with taste and gusto for their lives or with a sort of desperation that there is nowhere else to go. It is possible to devote oneself to the temporal world because it is the only one that counts, or because it is all the world that is left, which is the opposite of the first attitude. In one case, you deal with atheists pure and simple; in the other, you can observe people seemingly devoted to their temporal life but who actually could not immerse themselves so deeply in the temporal world if they did not find it difficult to live without God in the first place. In one case, you have people deeply in love with what they are—totally pleased with themselves—who basically consider any constraint imposed on them as unfair and unjust, and who have no real interest but pleasure. In the other case, you deal with people who are basically anxious about themselves, their lives, the whole world, about what they are, and who try to be something, since they do not derive any sense of reality from the One Who gives reality to everything, including man. These are people who need things to do, whatever they are, just to prove by doing them that they have at least some kind of reality—that of the object, whatever it is, that they produce. The United States of America was not born out of some pursuit of happiness but out of anxiety, anguish.
That is not to say, however, that either spirit is viable—though they are not for very different reasons.
The new Old World seems to be driven by a passion for well-being, pleasure, and all the possible comforts of life, and, to a certain extent, by an interest in control over nature, but only as a means to happiness. What it seems to neglect is the amount of energy, work, inventiveness, knowledge, and devotion it would take to achieve that happiness, all the more as it is definitely vague.
The new Old World therefore seems bent on running head on into an unbreakable wall: As soon as I realize that I work only not to work, why work? Notwithstanding the notable efforts of a few people, the new Old World is a world-class breeding ground for parasites. It is extremely naive to think that people, just because they are in need, are indefinitely driven to avail themselves of the means to fulfil that need. They dream, of course, of opulence, but it takes another incentive than pure need to achieve it. Men find it easier to become accustomed to a certain level of wealth or deprivation than to aim at overcoming any possible want, especially if given a chance to loot.
The signs are there for everyone to see, illuminating what people are longing for: a world in which one would have no pain other than to agree to be born, as Beaumarchais put it in other circumstances; a cartoon life, a spurious life, a life in which no one would have to think, a consciously unconscious life that spares you the labor of reflection; a life in which you can blend effortlessly with the environment, in which you hardly becomes aware of yourself as separate from your environment, because being separate means having to strive to adapt to it; a life in an unrealistic and magical world, devoted to drugs and T.V. Unless it were a life in which all wishes would be fulfilled just because no one would have to see something others have but he does not—a gray and totally uniform society such as the communist society. Or, possibly, a life of petty thievery, of picking up whatever happens by and pleases you, without fear of punishment or even blame. A life without hope but without despair, a more and more animal life.
The present and the future of the New World must, I think, be painted in very different colors.
It is not that, within this world, any similar trends are totally improbable, but, they are similar only on the surface. If I am right that the spirit of the New World is, at its root, anxiety about oneself, suppressed and more or less unconscious nostalgia for a meaningful world, the natural goal is to find a way to be satisfied with oneself (which is just the opposite of the Old World attitude). If, in both cases, it seems the final aim is peace, in one case, that peace means the discovery of a magical world in which you feel completely at ease; in the other case, it means—by entering your own self and closing the door—the discovery of a self-fulfilling self, a self who does not raise any doubts about himself, and who then is not bent on asking much of the outside world, mingling easily with it precisely because he does not try to tamper with it, a self-contained self, joyously but not anxiously looking at himself. We can easily observe in the contemporary culture of the New World numerous examples of this self-centered, narcissistic attitude.
We could also discern the lure of the European model—but as a temptation basically alien to the New World spirit—in the birth of the self-denominated communitarians. A few years ago, some kind of controversy seems to have raged between this self-proclaimed school of thought and that of the “libertarians.” Reading Murray Rothbard, I had a very good idea of what the libertarians were: the last true incarnation of the spirit of the New World, in its rudest but most meaningful guise, meaning each man for himself, but, please, God that doesn’t exist, let each man do something for himself. The communitarians were more difficult to debunk. (For some reason, they like to hide their faces.) It took me some time to realize that they were not communitarians, because they were not really intent on falling back into some kind of Aristotelian mold, looking forward to the rebirth of some kind of true revived city. Community meant for them the sheer solidarity that is the password of the new Old World, which is to say they represent only a beachhead for the invasion of the New World by the musty ghost that acts nowadays as the spirit of the decaying new Old World, the social-democratic mentality.
It is much more spontaneously natural, however, to try to soothe the basic anxiety about yourself by achieving, by showing others—but first of all yourself—that you are at least what you do: J’agis, donc je suis. (I act, therefore I am.) But there, precisely, is the rub, very different from the one suffered by the Old World.
What it all boils down to is the fact that the individual wants somehow to prove he has to be reckoned with. This means he is seeking the most unquestionable, objective proof he can find of his own worth. He may prove himself in his own eyes, but—since he doubts himself in the first place—this is hardly satisfactory. So he naturally turns to others and seeks recognition from them: To be admired, envied, seems more substantial a proof than feeling a solitary satisfaction. At second sight, however, what is the real value of public opinion, if it is made up of people who do not feel safer in their hearts than the individual himself? Sooner or later, therefore, such people will be tempted to formulate some sort of universal cause to which they could devote themselves and from which they could draw some objective justification for their existence—something like a mission to mankind, a role of path-finding for mankind, a teaching that would be valid for all of mankind. I insist on this qualification: It has to be universal. Otherwise, it would defeat its purpose.
Now we can see the rub. Can this universality be somehow invented? There used to be one indeed, the one classical Europe believed in, but the reason to look for a new one now is precisely because the old one has been rejected. So this new one has to be found, which means invented. By definition, however, either a true universal is given, or it is a sham.
The Old World, I think, is doomed to shrivel like a desiccated corpse, for parasites do not survive if there is no living organism on which to prey. There will be some islands of resistance, because life will be so unpleasant that its inhabitants will be tempted, like the Greek colonists, to emigrate to safer shores. On the whole, however, the common man will be both envious and resentful toward the New World, which he will perceive as the paradise he longs for but knows within his heart to be beyond his weakening reach. The new Old Europe has but one choice: to find a painless way to descend into eternal oblivion or hate and try to destroy what it cannot have—that is to say, to board the ship to nihilism.
It is not entirely impossible that the spirit of the New World will yield to the lure of European decay and that the social-democratic mentality will breech the stronghold of economic conservatism and big business, though I still think that this mentality is too repulsive to the spirit of the New World to carry the day in the very near future.
Therefore, the New World is doomed to cast itself into the role of a new savior, a new prophet; that, however, can only be spurious, since it is cast in the semblance of the true Savior but carved as one that should replace its model. How can one hope to achieve this purpose if not by force? Intent on playing the redeemer, the New World must view Europe either as a sort of vestige of an antiquated past, possibly a charming one, possessing the intriguing charm of primitive ruins or the quaint attraction of dead customs, or as the domain of annoyingly backward savages who, basking in their arrogant laziness, have to be taught better manners.
There is, of course, a way at least to delay the apocalypse of the West. It is to make the two spirits that now reign over the Western world realize they have committed a fateful parricide, confess their sin, and make penitence in a renewed adoration of their common ancestor, the Mediterranean soul of Old Europe. That looks very much like a conversion, however, and that would require some miraculous grace.